California students shouldn't get placed in fake classes

California measure would stop school districts from placing kids in fake classes

When it was revealed that students at Jefferson High School in South Los Angeles and other schools were being assigned to "classes" in which nothing was actually taught, many people wondered how this could happen. Isn't it against the law to stick kids in fake classes and deprive them of basic educational opportunities?

In a word: Nope.

It should be, though. Assemblyman Reggie Jones-Sawyer (D-Los Angeles) thinks so too. He is proposing legislation to update the state's educational code to ban the practice, with only a few exceptions, starting in the 2016-17 school year. The bill, AB 1012, would also prohibit two other practices schools use to disguise their scheduling deficiencies: sending students home early and signing up a handful of them as teachers' "assistants."

But declaring something illegal doesn't automatically make it stop. So the bill wisely outlines a procedure for parents and others to file complaints with school districts and sets a timeline for a response. The complaint process is undergoing amendments at the moment to make it more palatable to district administrators. The result is likely to be a longer timeline than is ideal: 30 days for a school district to investigate and respond, and another 30 days for the state to answer any appeal.

We'd prefer a shorter turnaround period, because every day a student is sidelined is a day he or she is missing crucial material. But we recognize that even a longer response time is better than no response at all.

The fake classes at Jefferson were ultimately blamed on a new scheduling system, and the Los Angeles Unified School District was ordered by a Superior Court judge to fix it for the current school year. That won't protect future students or those in other districts, or address problems at L.A. Unified not caused by the scheduling system. Indeed, civil rights groups sued the state, citing the use of noneducation classes in three districts: L.A. Unified, Compton and Oakland. If this lawsuit prevails, however, it would apply only to the schools named in the lawsuit.

Jones-Sawyer's fake classes bill is now in the Assembly Appropriations Committee's "suspense file," where measures that would raise the government's costs are automatically placed and sometimes get stuck for no apparent reason. There is some threat of this bill languishing there because of its potential burden on school districts. That's no excuse. It shouldn't be considered a hardship to provide a full school day's worth of education to all students.

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